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Disclaimer: The author of this site maintained the campaign weblog of John Kline's opponent in the 2006 election, which made Congressman Kline a bit testy.

As with all blogs, review the facts carefully and draw your own conclusions.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Kline Record: Kline (and 40 other Republicans) Sit Passively While the Leadership Rams Medicare Reform Down Their Throats

And now we come to an ignominious part of John Kline's record; not something he said or did in Congress, but something he failed to do.

Many of Bush's supporters say that you may disagree with Bush on the issues, but at least he stands up for what he believes in. In fact, to my frustration, there are some who voted for Bush in spite of the fact that they disagree with him on the issues, because he stands up for what he believes in. To those Bush supporters I say: keep a close eye on congressman John Kline.

In the days just before Thanksgiving 2003, the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives was pushing to suspend the rules which provide lawmakers a minimum of three days to review all legislation prior to voting on it. There were many bills the leadership wished to act on, but chief among them was the Medicare bill providing (among other things) prescription drug benefits to seniors. The situation was described by Democrat Jim McGovern of Massachusetts:

Mr. Speaker, this bill, if I understand correctly, was filed at about 1:20 a.m. this morning and under House rules, Mr. Speaker, all Members of this House, Democrats and Republicans, are supposed to have 3 days, 3 days to review any conference report so they can actually read what is in it so that they will know what, in fact, that they are voting on. It is obvious, as has been the case so many times over and over, that the Republican majority is choosing to ignore the rules of this House and it is particularly disturbing that they have chosen to do so once again with regard to a bill that I think is so very important.

Yeah, yeah, so a Democrat accuses the Republican leadership of dirty tricks; so what else is new? How about this: 41 Republican members of the House, including freshman congressman John Kline, had written a letter to the Republican majority leaders requesting the same three-day review period:

We write to request that if the Conferees on the Medicare Prescription Drug and Modernization Act of 2003 report to the House a Conference Report, copies of the text of the Conference Report, the text of the explanatory statement, and the text of Congressional Budget Office cost estimate for the Conference report be made available to all Members at least three calendar days after filing (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, unless the House is in session on those days) and prior to consideration of the Conference Report or to any measure reported from the Committee on Rules providing for the consideration of the Conference Report.

The general public will evaluate not only what Congress does regarding Medicare and prescription drugs, but the way in which it does it. A bill proposing such substantive changes to the Medicare system and costing an estimated $400 billion over the next decade deserves the careful and thoughtful consideration of all Members.

Allowing Members adequate time to properly evaluate the Conference Report will avoid a needless and difficult internal fight on the Rule, and allow Leadership to concentrate its efforts on final passage of the Conference Report. It will also lead to more public confidence in the legislative process and greater acceptance of that process' final product.

Therefore, while some of us are likely to support and others to oppose the Conference Report on H.R. 1, each of us strongly urges you to abide by regular order and provide at least three calendar days for Members to review the Conference Report and materials necessary to properly evaluate the Conference Report.

John Kline not only signed his name to this letter, but his was the first name on the letter. So one would naturally assume that Kline would also be the first Republican member of the House to speak up and join Jim McGovern in requesting that House rules be followed and a 3-day review period be observed prior to voting on the Medicare bill.

However, one would be mistaken. None of the 41 signees were willing to openly defy their leadership on the floor and stand up for what they wrote in that letter. So the rules were suspended, and around 3:00 AM on November 22, less than 26 hours after the final bill was released from conference committee, it was put to a vote on the House floor. This was the infamous vote which was held open for a record two hours 51 minutes, during which Michigan Republican Nick Smith was threatened and bribed in an effort to change his "no" vote (to Smith's credit, he held his ground). And in the months that followed, we learned that an administration actuary was threatened with the loss of his job if he told Congress the true estimated cost of the bill, and even later learned that the bill would drain billions of dollars from state governments. This in addition to the downsides of the legislation which were known at the time it passed.

Of course, it's possible that the Medicare bill still would have squeaked through the House even if the leadership had followed the rules, given everyone three days to read the bill, and allowed Republicans in their caucus to vote their conscience. But you have to wonder why the Republican leadership was so determined to pass the bill before anyone had had the chance to read it.

You also have to wonder if things would have turned out differently if John Kline, or any of the 40 other Republicans who had asked their leaders to follow the rules, had stood up and defended their beliefs on the floor on November 21.

Update: In the original post, I wrote that Nick Smith changed his vote after being threatened and bribed. In fact, he held his ground and still voted against the bill. The management regrets the error.

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